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Albertans share frustration at Airdrie Fair Deal Panel

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The Fair Deal Panel, held Jan. 27 at the Town and Country Centre, drew a large crowd of Albertans wanting to be heard. Photo by Allison Chorney/Airdrie Today

Locals and those from the Calgary area vented frustrations with the federal government Jan. 27, as the provincial government's Fair Deal Panel wrapped up its provincewide tour in Airdrie.

With attendees hailing from Airdrie, Okotoks, Cochrane and Calgary, and from all walks of life from rancher to politician, the overarching theme from speakers was anger and a desire for change.

"Certainly, I believe Alberta is the abused child of confederation...," Wendy Adam told the panel as she outlined her desire for equalization.

The call to reform long-contentious equalization payments – a type of federal transfer given to less wealthy provinces to equalize their ability to generate tax revenues – was heard repeatedly throughout the evening, though was not included in the nine possible actions suggested in the panel's mandate letter.

"If we don't fix the fundamental problem of equalization, then, unfortunately, all of your time on this panel would have been wasted," said Peter McCaffrey, Alberta Institute president.

"The important thing to remember about equalization is that equalization isn't just bad for Alberta, it's bad for every other province, as well. It's socialism for provinces. It transfers money from provinces that have good public policies that grow their economies, create jobs and stimulate their economies, to provinces that do not reform their policies...."

MLA for Banff-Kananaskis and Fair Deal panellist Miranda Rosin said she was not surprised equalization payments came up, since it was part of the UCP campaign, and noted the mandate letter outlines possible actions but the panel's report and recommendations are not limited to those nine recommendations.

"That's why we're consulting with Albertans. To go out, discuss the ideas of the floor, but also see what ideas they have to bring back to us, and equalization is one of them," she said. "Senate reform has been another big one that's come out."

Spenser Matthews was one of the many speakers in Airdrie to suggest senate reform, highlighting what he sees as "hypocrisy in the system."

"I don't think there is a fair deal in constitution, and that is plain and simple – we are treated as a resource province that's meant to give and never receive," he said. "The only way there is ever going to be any change in that kind of arrangement is if there is representation in senate and higher bodies of our legislative government...."

He was joined by several others who shared their frustration with unequal representation, specifically taking aim at Ontario and Quebec.

"Canada belongs to everyone, not just Ontario and Quebec," said an unidentified female speaker. "Equal powers should be given to every province.... Between Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, we have only 62 seats...Ontario and Quebec [have] 199 seats. Quebec has 78 MP seats in comparison to the combined three Western provinces...which have only a grand total of 62 electoral seats. This leaves us with no say."

Separation was also suggested on numerous occasions throughout the event, with speakers citing a "hostile federal government," "Eastern overlords" and an "economic union broken beyond repair" as reasons to leave.

A speaker who only identified himself as Glen, a small business owner, said many Canadians feel that "killing the Alberta energy industry is necessary to save the planet from carbon dioxide emissions."

"That's why four out of the five major federal parties ultimately campaigned against the energy industry this past election," he said.

"This emissions propaganda war, which has crippled our energy industry, has now begun against our livestock industry, as well. All indications are the Liberals intend to continue phasing out our oil industry. We need to take action now. A fair deal in confederation would be great, but if that can't happen, we have to consider separation."

Rosin said, though the "vast majority" speaking at the meetings just want a fair deal, there is "the portion of the population who said, out rightly, 'we need to separate and we need to do it tomorrow.'"

"I think that really goes back to the heart of how disenfranchised Albertan's are feeling and how fed up they are with the Federation," she said. "They've given so much to this country [and have] gotten so a little back in return, that they can't even stomach being a party of it anymore. And that really devastated me..."

Rosin said more than 4,000 Albertans have attended meetings with the panel so far, with about 30 more town hall meetings to be hosted by MLAs. She said thinks residents are attending these events because there is "a genuine, and honest and widespread feeling of frustration and neglect from the federal government."

"Many [Albertans] have lost their job, they've lost their home, they've lost their marriages, they've lost entire livelihoods. And I think a lot of people are just really fed up, and they're really desperate for change," she said.

Other suggestions put forth by speakers included many of the nine actions under provincial consideration:
  • Establishing a provincial revenue agency to collect provincial taxes by ending the Canada-Alberta Tax Collection Agreement, while joining Quebec in seeking an agreement to collect federal taxes within the province.
  • Creating an Alberta Pension Plan by withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan.
  • Establishing a provincial police force by ending the Alberta Police Service Agreement with the Government of Canada.
  • Emulating Quebec’s practice of playing a larger role in international relations, in part by seeking Alberta representation in treaty negotiations that affect Alberta’s interests.
  • Emulating Quebec’s legal requirement that public bodies, including municipalities and school boards, obtain the approval of the provincial government before they can enter into agreements with the federal government.
  • Using the existing provincial power to appoint the Chief Firearms Office for Alberta.
  • Opting out of federal cost-share programs with full compensation, such as the federal government’s proposed pharmacare program.
  • Seeking an exchange of tax points for federal cash transfers under the Canada Health and Social Transfers.
  • Establishing a formalized provincial constitution.

By putting some or all of these plans in place, Alberta Independence Party president David Campbell told the panel it would be "plowing the first furrow" toward "full departure from this abusive and incestuous relationship that is called confederation."

Certainly a minority at the event, only a handful of speakers offered differing or opposing perspectives to the possible Fair Deal actions.

Ruben Nelson said he loves Alberta and Canada, and compared the situation the province finds itself in to a fight between siblings.

"I've come to the conclusion that Alberta needs a mother. We holler...it's not fair, we want to make 'them' stop," he said. "In all of this discussion, there has never been a word about our contribution to the mess we're in."

Nelson said, in his lifetime, Alberta "has been run over by history several times, and every time we've complained that they did it to us."

An attendee who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of attack for a differing view, said she thought "a lot of people needed to vent."

Rosin said more than 4,000 Albertans have attended meetings with the panel so far, with about 30 more town hall meetings to be hosted by MLAs. She said thinks residents are attending these events because there is "a genuine, and honest and widespread feeling of frustration and neglect from the federal government."

"Many [Albertans] have lost their job, they've lost their home, they've lost their marriages, they've lost entire livelihoods. And I think a lot of people are just really fed up, and they're really desperate for change," she said.

Daryl Medd, who told the panel he had "fallen out of love with Canada," said he was surprised by the repeated calls for separation.

"I knew Albertans were angry, but I didn't know it was this strong," he said. "There is a stronger separatist sentiment in this room than what we're seeing in the polls. But I think it is a reluctant separatist sentiment because it's not that we want to separate from Canada, it's that we feel we're not going to get a fair deal unless it's really certain that we're going to separate if we don't."

The Fair Deal Panel will continue collecting feedback from the public via email to info@fairdeal.ca, and will submit a report on its findings by March 31.

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